There’s an enclosed pedestrian bridge that spans Locust Street in Akron. It connects a parking garage and medical building to the third floor entrance of Akron Children’s Hospital. I crossed that bridge on January 4, 1991. I was scared, tired, still not sure of what was going on. I didn’t know why I was in Akron, other than the fact that I had been exhausted for the last couple weeks, that I had a severe pain in my back, and that doctors in Wooster had said something about leukemia. But I didn’t know what that was or what it meant. I didn’t know how long I would be there. I didn’t know what I would face in the coming days, months and years. I couldn’t comprehend all of the ways in which, in crossing that bridge, my life would change. I couldn’t comprehend that I would never be the same, or, that it would take me nearly a quarter-century to realize that my life was never the same, and any attempts to get back to the Matt I was before I crossed the bridge were futile.
I think about how that bridge can never be uncrossed. Indeed, trying to uncross it, trying to understand and unpack everything that crossing it that first time meant, has caused me to cross that bridge — both figuratively and literally — hundreds of more times. Because when I go to Akron Children’s Hospital to visit with my old nurses or to look at my medical records or to participate in an event the hospital is having, I always park in that same old parking garage and enter the same way, despite the fact the hospital has built a new parking garage and created a new, much nicer, main entrance. I can’t park anywhere else, because I feel I have to always enter the hospital the exact same way from which I initially came.
I walk across that bridge and I look out to the left and see the Ronald McDonald House. I see the space where Room 462 used to look out on the intersection of Locust and State. In my mind’s eye, I can see it exactly as I saw it when I crossed over the first time. And when I look forward, I see the same teal and pink carpet leading straight ahead to a welcome desk that is still staffed by elderly volunteers, and I see those orange elevators behind the volunteers, elevators that sometime around 9:30 a.m. on January 4, 1991, took me up as I sat in a wheelchair to the fourth floor. I still take those same elevators because I don’t know any other way, nor do I want to. When I am in that space, on that bridge, walking past that desk, standing in the elevator, my heart races and everything comes back in clear bursts. And instead of making me scared or confused, I feel calm, like that is the place I am meant to be.